Friday, June 29, 2012

Review - Harvey

Believe it or not, I have a relationship with Harvey, too!  Walk down Memory Lane alert:  when I was a freshman in high school, I played on the girls' volleyball team.  I'm not really the athletic type, though, so I got cut my sophomore year.  Oh well.  I started looking for an after-school activity to take the place of volleyball.  Lo and behold, I decided to audition for the school play, Kiss and Tell.  I didn't get a part, but I did get the bug.  So when my school did Harvey the next fall, I auditioned and got cast as Ruth Kelly, RN.  I had a blast and an epiphany - my future was decided.  Therefore, I have a HUGE soft spot for this play.

Oddly enough, I've never seen another production of the play.  I've seen the movie many times over the years, but certainly not lately.  It was fun to sit in Studio 54 last night and be reminded of lines and bits of business that have sat dormant in my brain for over...well, let's just say, quite a few years.  :) 

Harvey is a play, I think, that depends on charm.  If your Elwood doesn't project charm and a sweetly innocent knowingness, you're in big trouble.  Of course, Roundabout probably would never have presented this play if Jim Parsons didn't exist.  He could be the only actor right now who could play Elwood P Dowd.  His utter sincerity and truthfulness anchors the daffy comedy around him.  He's just a joy to watch.  I got tears in my eyes a few times, not only at his sweetness, but also at the melancholy of memory.  It was quite a trip for me.  :)

Jessica Hecht is just never one of my favorites, I can't help it.  I did enjoy her physical antics as Elwood's put-upon sister in the second act, but the vocal mannerisms she's adopted make it difficult to understand what she's even saying.  I missed a lot of her laugh lines, unfortunately.  Of course, I was seated in the rafters.  Perhaps if I had been seated downstairs...

I thought Charles Kimbrough, as Dr Chumley, was terrific.  His entrance into the final scene was a riot and I loved his monologue about wanting two weeks in Akron.  It was comedy perfection.  Larry Bryggman is always grand; Carol Kane used her utter Carol Kane-ness to perfection as Mrs Chumley; Man Men's Rich Sommers found some nice layers in the hospital orderly, Wilson; Angela Paton and Peter Benson truly shine in their tiny little scenes; Morgan Spector and Holley Fain were very pleasant as Dr Sanderson and Nurse Kelly, though I must profess a preference for my performance alongside a high-school crush.  (lol)

There were also quite a few characters seated in the balcony last night - there was the guy in a full tuxedo, with fedora, only his tuxedo pants were running shorts.  Um, ok.  And then there was the guy who was wearing a sleeveless jumpsuit, suitable for fixing cars perhaps, sporting an alarming amount of hair, both on his head and on his face.  The gal in front of me pushed herself back into her seat whenever she laughed, jarring my knees and the guy behind me jammed his knees into my seatback, throwing me forward.  I was thisclose to having motion sickness.  Oh, and some other kids behind me wondered if there would be a different show in the theater later that night, because 'that's how they do it on Broadway.' I couldn't wrap my head around that one, so I stopped eavesdropping.  The ushers clearly hadn't gotten enough training, because nearly everyone was directed to the wrong seat at first.  There was one family, I kid you not, that must've gone up and down the stairs by my seat four times before finally finding where they were sitting.  I was thisclose to getting up and helping them myself...

I highly recommend seeing Harvey - for most, it will be a charming, gentle, lovely summer diversion into the American theater of the past.  For me, though, it was also a lovely remembrance of simpler times gone by.  Which, I guess, Harvey really is.  Whether it was your first high-school play or not...

**five years ago, I cried my way (in a good way) through the National Asian-American Theater Festival's production of Falsettoland; three years ago, I caught a matinee performance of Tin Pan Alley Rag and an evening performance of Pure Confidence - I enjoyed them both**

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Review - Closer Than Ever

So, let me tell you a brief story about my relationship with Closer Than Ever.  Well, I don't really have a relationship with it.  But I will tell a silly story.  I had a brief interlude working in Ohio, between my two NYC lives.  For a while, I worked at a small community theater there.  When I started, it was right before the beginning of their new season.  However, the community was still abuzz with the complete and utter failure of their recently closed production of Closer Than Ever.  Apparently, the local critics had called it the worst show ever, it sold minimal amounts of tickets and the concession area couldn't get rid of any of their merchandise.  Therefore, my first impression of Closer Than Ever was as a failure.  Because there were so many leftover copies of the cast recording at the concession stand, I picked up a free copy and listened to the show.  CONSTANTLY.  I loved it!  So I couldn't figure out how that lovely show turned out to be a failure!  But, for better or worse, when I hear the title, I think of an unsuccessful work. 

Which is NOT the correct impression, of course.  And, when the York Theatre Company announced they were doing the show, I was thrilled.  When a chum suggested we go see the show last night, I jumped.  For the most part, I greatly enjoyed myself.

For me, there's an inherent problem with a revue.  Sometimes it can be hard to hang your hat on something, with so many disparate motifs and changes of tone.  Even though there's an overarching theme of people of a certain age questioning their choices, there's still a lot of jumping back and forth.  So it's hard for me to engage.  But I fully acknowledge that's my problem, not necessarily the show's.

The performers are all quite terrific, most especially Jenn Colella, who is charming, funny and sings like a dream.  She's so funny in "Miss Byrd" and "You Wanna Be My Friend," but is also quite touching in "I've Been Here Before."  Oh, and she's all kinds of sultry in "Back on Base."  It was nice to see Christiane Noll show off her comic chops, though I found she occasionally pulled back a little too much and I missed some of her lyrics.  George Dvorsky is handsome with a big voice - he delivered "If I Sing" beautifully, though I'll admit I was daydreaming that a friend of mine was playing the role instead.  Oops.  I was less sold on Sal Viviano's acting, though his singing was top-notch.  His "One of the Good Guys" was very well done.

I love David Shire's music - it runs the gamut from jazzy to plaintive to upbeat to pop-y.  And Richard Maltby's lyrics are quite smart, though a few are clunky.  As a gal of a certain age, I could certainly appreciate the story songs dealing with not being quite so young any more, though it might've been nice to have one song that didn't feel bad about being single. :)  I did find some of the songs, though, quite touching and made me think about a few things with a different perspective.

Richard Maltby also directed the production, and the staging gets a little fussy from time to time.  I know there's a fine line between keeping a revue moving and making it too busy, and the show crosses the line (IMO) a few times.  But, all in all, I had a grand time.  It's nice to have another frame of reference for Closer Than Ever instead of just as an Ohio community theater disaster.  And I'll have to try to find my cassette (?!) of the original cast album...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

ABT - Swan Lake

I love Swan Lake.  Seriously.  LOVE.  Last year, I had bought extra tickets to see Hallberg and Semionova, but David was injured and couldn't dance.  It was still a thrilling evening, since Marcelo Gomes stepped in and partnered Polina beautifully.  He is a wonder, you know.  But ever since last year (and since seeing this year's schedule), I have been dying to see David and Polina dance Swan Lake.  I kept knocking wood, all day yesterday, to throw out good vibes that there wouldn't be a nasty slip of white paper in my program. 

I got to the Met early, since I like to enter the house as soon as it opens (as you already know).  Bathroom, photos, blah blah blah.  After I had my ticket scanned, I went upstairs, wandered around, and noticed the doors to the house were still closed.  Oh no.  I was CERTAIN they were delaying opening the auditorium because they were stuffing programs with nasty little slips of white paper.  I tried deep breaths and going to my happy place.  I considered a glass of champagne.  Finally, they let us in.  I settled into my balcony seat, opened the program, and saw...a slip of paper.  With dread, I pulled it out of the program.  Thankfully, it only told me the names of the gals dancing the Cygnettes in Act II.  Big exhale.  THANK YOU, ballet gods. 

And wow, David and Polina were well worth the wait.  If last year's Swan Lake felt thrilling and electric to me, last night's felt gorgeously and deeply sublime.  I actually started crying during the first pas de deux between Polina and David - it was just perfect.  The sighing violin (thumbs up to the soloist), the beautiful dancing.  It was so beautiful, it made me cry.  Hooray!!!  It reminded me of that line in The Turning Point (wildly paraphrased by me): 'some nights it all comes together, the dancing, the costumes, the music.'  So true.

David and Polina complement each other so beautifully - they both have gorgeous lines, stunning extensions and dramatic physicality.  If they don't quite have the symbiotic chemistry that David and Natalia Osipova have, oh well.  They're still an amazing team. 

David plays Prince Siegfried much differently than Marcelo Gomes did, as he should.  Where Marcelo is a virile guy's guy, David seems more like a spoiled rich guy, seemingly going through life with disinterest, until he is shocked into living by Odette.  His relationships with other characters (his mother, Benno) seem remote and chilly before he meets Odette, then in Act III, he's more open and warm with them.  Love has truly changed him.  It's a very interesting piece of acting, and makes his despair after his betrayal of his love even more moving.  I found his waving to his mother very touching, when he was trying to express the reason for his lack of interest in marrying one of the princesses.  And if he was shocked by Odette, he was positively dazzled and bowled over by Odile!  The Black Swan pas de deux was amazing! 

Polina has such a beautiful back and soft arms.  Her softness as Odette is ethereal and lovely, and she really does look like a swan.  But when she's dancing as Odile, wow!  She suddenly is all seductive and sinewy, with come-hither smiles and mocking imitations of Odette.  It's amazing the physical difference.  Her balance is effortless - there are times when it seems as if she can stay en pointe all day.  Again, not in a show-offy way, but in a way that illuminates the choreography even more.  The shapes she makes with her body are just so lovely - can you tell I loved her?  :)

The rest of the cast was very good, though not quite at the level of David or Polina.  I liked Alexandre Hammoudi as the human Rothbart, though he could dance with a tad more oomph.  He's got the look, now he needs to sell it.  Stella Abrera, Maria Riccetto and Sascha Radetsky did the pas de trois and were quite good, though Sascha's partnering felt wonky.  There was one point where it seemed like he forgot he needed to partner one of the gals and she fell off pointe.  It was weird, he kinda ran back up to her, out of character.  I don't know.  Maybe it was intentional, but I don't remember seeing the choreography done like that before.  It didn't ruin anything, it just looked really odd.  The swans had lovely unison and the Two Swans, Simone Messmer and Melanie Hamrick, were terrific, as were the substitute Cygnettes.  The peasants in the first scene felt a little out of unison, but it could be the staging.  McKenzie has so many different things going on, sometimes it feels like people are doing the wrong choreography when they're not.  At least to me. 

It was a full and very enthusiastic house, with many cheers for David and Polina.  They had to take two mid-performance curtain calls after their first pas de deux (the one that made me cry), and the response at the end of the evening was rapturous.  They both seemed so grateful for all the love they were getting from the audience.  It was a beautiful evening all around and I'm so glad I finally got to see this pair in Swan Lake.  I hope to see them dance it again for many years to come.  Next week--the last ballet in my series.  I can hardly stand to think about it.  Ballet season is such a happy time and it's almost over...

Friday, June 22, 2012

ABT - The Dream/Firebird

I can't believe I only have two more ballets for the season after last night's trip back to ABT!  Wah!  The summer ballet season goes way too fast.  I was hoping, by picking up some extra tickets, it would make the season seem longer.  Nope.  Didn't work.  I still think it's going too fast.  As usual, I had a grand time at the Met last night.  I know.  I'm a broken record.  :) 

I had considered exchanging last night's tickets, since I had already seen Firebird, but then I remembered I'd never seen The Dream live, only on PBS.  Plus, in my subscription series, The Dream was danced last night by Xiomara Reyes, one of my favorites, so I thought...what the heck.  Plus, I did really want to see Firebird again, since I had had some quibbles with it when I saw the opening night last week.

I love A Midsummer Night's Dream.  I did the play in college and working on the play is a happy memory, though I did it at an unhappy time in my life.  I've worked on the play many other times over the years, so I was charmed to see the ballet version, with has beautiful music by Mendelssohn.  There was even a Young People's Chorus, which was lovely.

The Dream, choreographed by Frederick Ashton, deals mainly with Titania and Oberon, though the two sets of lovers do come into the woods so Puck can mess about with love.  The choreography is lovely, with beautiful pas de deux for Titania and Oberon, and very clever comic choreography for the lovers.  I enjoyed the production very much.

I will say that Xiomara Reyes, though an adorable Titania, didn't have quite enough of a regal quality about her.  She's such an itty bitty thing.  In the beginning, the business with her changeling boy seemed petulant rather than spoiled monarch.  But her dancing is exquisite and she has the most beautiful hands.  Cory Stearns was appropriately regal, but I thought his portrayal of Oberon lacked heft.  He had lovely line and beautiful extension, but could've used a tad more 'oomph'.  He partnered Xiomara very nicely, though.  Stella Abrera as Hermia was adorable and Jared Matthews was a very romantic Lysander.  I thought Sascha Radetsky mined the comic bits well as Demetrius and Maria Riccetto was a fun Helena.  I forgot about the little solo for Bottom, as danced by Alexei Agoudine.  Putting him en pointe, to make it look like he's dancing on hooves, is genius.  And he had just the right amount of silliness and pathos as Bottom.  But the star of the evening was Herman Cornejo as Puck.  Clearly, Puck has the best choreography, but Cornejo exploded while dancing it.  His leaps were high and light, his turns were fast and secure, plus he had a, well, puckish sense of fun about him.  I thought he was fantastic and the best part of the evening.  The audience agreed with me, I think.  He got repeated and sustained applause.  I enjoyed seeing The Dream and wouldn't mind seeing it again in upcoming seasons.  My Julie is dancing it tonight and I toyed with trying to go, but, hello, even I have my limits.  :) 

One tiny annoying bit - there were young girls sitting behind me and when they started to get bored at the end of The Dream, they began kicking my seat.  Not on purpose, but because they were fidgeting and restless.  But you know how I hate that.  I held in my annoyance and had a quick quiet word with the mom before the start of the second act.  She was very apologetic and understanding, so I'm glad I didn't lose my temper at the girls.  I wouldn't want to ruin their evening out, especially if it had been their first ballet.

After another extra-long intermission, we got to Firebird.  This was the same cast that I saw last week, but they performed with much more smoothness and security last night.  The partnering was more seamless and it seemed like they all settled into the choreography better and gave it some extra brio.  I definitely enjoyed the piece more last night.  Plus, I knew what to expect, I guess, so I could pay attention more closely to smaller details.  Marcelo Gomes was again charming and virile, and his boots again squeaked.  I guess there's nothing to be done.  It's a little distracting in the first prologue scene because the music is so quiet, but after that, it's not as noticeable.  I thought Natalia Osipova as the Firebird was even more impressive last night - those slides even made sense.  I could really see her desperation to get away from Marcelo, coupled with her fascination for him.  You could see her wrestling with herself, alongside wrestling with him, during their first pas de deux.  I liked that very much.  David Hallberg was again sublime (but, really, when isn't he?) as the evil Kaschei.  I think that wig and frock coat free him to have such fun, yet still dance with beautiful line and musicality.  I still liked the pas de quatre (which was unliked by most of the critics I read. oh well), and again thought the ending was lovely.  There was one cute moment when one of the oddball maidens dropped her apple (the apple thing doesn't really work, but oh well) and it rolled off-stage.  She just shrugged, dropped her head, and flat-footedly walked to get it.  She stayed in character and the audience appreciated it.  Sometimes it's nice to see a little unexpected choreography.  :) 

All in all, another lovely evening at ABT.  Oh, and the girls didn't kick me once during the second act.  Yay for their mom.  Next week, Swan Lake and romantic goopiness.  Yum.  Then Le Corsaire, with Ethan Stiefel, in his next-to-last performance before retiring from ABT.  Can't wait.

Brief tennis plea to the tennis gods:  please, please, please.  Please.  A final with two different combatants.  Please.  Thank you.  I dare not jinx any further by saying anything else...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Review - A Streetcar Named Desire

A friend who had to go out of town gave me his TDF ticket to the revival of A Streetcar Named Desire last night.  I was happy to go see it - it's one of my favorite plays, plus several of my Tony voter friends told me how much they unexpectedly enjoyed it (it didn't get a lot of love from the critics).  On the whole, I enjoyed the production, too, though my seat neighbors made the evening a trying one.  I'll need to get that annoyance off my chest before attempting a review of the production.  Sorry...

My TDF seat was fine, about ten rows back, on the side.  My first inkling that there might be trouble was the gal sitting on my right, who had her leg crossed into my personal space, along with leaning into my arm rest.  And she ran her fingers through her hair for about a half hour, leaning in my personal space.  And she repeatedly complained that there was no "plot" in the program.  Sigh.  Ordinarily, I would just lean the other way, but unfortunately, the gal on my left ALSO crossed her leg into my personal space, with the added bonus of periodically kicking her leg up as if she were being checked for reflexes.  I should've moved.  It's my own fault.  But I thought, this can't last all night...

Oh, but it did.  AND the gals behind me.  Jeepers.  One of them sounded like Jennifer Tilly.  I took a quick peek to make sure it wasn't Jennifer Tilly.  It wasn't.  But she and her gal pal talked through most of the first act.  I tried to tune them out, and was mainly successful since I love the language of the play and the actors were strongly miked, but it got harder and harder.  Apparently, someone else got tired of them chatting, so they uttered a loud "SHHHHHHHHHHH," to which the Jennifer Tilly soundalike replied, in her outdoor voice, "F*ck off."  Nice.  I was hoping an usher or a house manager would come down, but it didn't happen.

Oddly, they both got up at the same time, along with several other people, at the end of a scene in the first act.  I thought maybe they had seen this production before and were getting a jump on intermission.  No, they were just getting up.  It was so odd - there had to be at least six people who got up.  I was hoping the gals behind me wouldn't come back, but they did.  Before intermission even started.  With a big bag of Twizzlers.

During intermission, they said not one word to each other, they just ate the Twizzlers.  I guess they needed to save up their conversation, because once Act Two started, they were ready to talk to each other again.  Which they did, through to the end of the show, while they continued to rustle the Twizzlers bag throughout.

There was also a lady a couple of rows back who very helpfully talked out loud to tell us, in her outdoor voice, which characters were coming in ("ooo, that's Blanche."  "ooo, that's the doctor."), or to say "uh oh" when something was going to go down.  Though I didn't hate on her as much as the gals behind me, because at least she was involved in the play.  I just wish she had been involved in her own mind instead of out through her mouth.  And then there was the gent a few rows in front of me who was in LOVE with Nicole Ari Parker.  He applauded after maybe every third line she spoke.  That got old after awhile.  And when the show was over, he ran up to the stage so he could high five her.  That's a fan for you.

OH, and the other thing about this audience that sort of bothered me is that they laughed throughout the show as if they were watching Noises Off or something.  I've never thought of Streetcar as a rollicking comedy, but everyone was laughing their heads off.  And I don't think it's been directed in a 'faster/funnier' kind of way.  I don't know.  It just was really weird to me.

So, having said all that blah blah blah, and after having given people who don't deserve so many words, uh, so many words, I'm ready to talk about the production.  :)    I've always enjoyed Blair Underwood on tv, but was fairly skeptical of his playing Stanley (they've excised the 'Kowalski' for this production).  As a performer, I find he has an innate elegance and dignity that would seem to play against Stanley.  While I found his interpretation to be clear, focused and perfectly well-acted, I ultimately didn't buy him.  His performance just seemed too disjointed for me, without feeling the simmering rage underneath before the explosions, or seeing the combustible sexual being Stella fell in lust with.  I didn't think he had any particular chemistry with either actress.  But he is spectacularly handsome and when he took off his shirt, I internally gasped. Yes, sometimes there's God so quickly.  :)  Of course, the rest of the crowd hooted and hollered like they were at a Chippendales revue, but oh well.  I would definitely like to see him on stage again - he has a good voice, a good presence and can take command, but unfortunately his Stanley wasn't completely successful for me.

I didn't really know Nicole Ari Parker's work before, but I really enjoyed her take on Blanche.  She was flirty, feminine, smart, funny, naive, vulnerable, broken.  She seemed very aware of her effect on people and perhaps started off with more internal strength than most women who play Blanche, but it made the last scene really affecting with so great an arc.  I liked her a lot.  I wasn't thrilled with Daphne Rubin-Vega as Stella, but I never am.  That's just my problem, I guess.  She always seems to be acting in a different play than everyone else.  IMO, of course.  Oh, and her last costume was awful - I actually felt so badly for her.  The way she had to mince around in those shoes was almost comical, which is bad when she's watching her sister head off for her 'rest.'

I also didn't know Wood Harris' work, but I thought he was really good as Mitch.  He played him a little differently - younger maybe, more gangly and a different kind of awkward, but he was quite affecting.  I thought he had wonderful chemistry with Parker's Blanche, and I really felt his pain during the last scene.  On the whole, I thought Emily Mann's direction was good, though I thought the use of Terence Blanchard's jazz score was a tad excessive and I didn't really need the tableau vivant of the New Orleans funeral.  But I thought this multi-racial casting did illuminate some of the text in different ways and was mainly successful.

Sorry there's so much blather, but I'm definitely glad I saw this production, even though my seat neighbors worked my last nerve.  The show cancelled their extension, so they'll be closing in mid-July.  Discounts are probably available - I think it's worth a look.

Monday, June 18, 2012

ABT - Romeo and Juliet

I believe Prokoviev's Romeo and Juliet is the first live ballet I ever saw.  Or was it Nutcracker?  No, I'm pretty sure it was R & J.  At the very least, it's the first ballet I ever saw at ABT.  In the mid 90s, a friend worked for the Met, so he would get me free tickets to operas and ballets that weren't sold out.  So, the first time I saw this ballet, I saw Julie Kent dance Juliet and I was entranced.  I already knew her from the movie Dancers, but watching her as Juliet all those years ago was a transcendent experience.  I find her combination of fragility and strength to be so moving, especially as Juliet.  She has been my prima ballerina gold standard ever since.

Last Saturday night, I was fortunate enough to see Julie dance as Juliet once more.  I haven't seen Romeo and Juliet for a few years, since I've seen it so much, but I figure I won't have all that many more chances to see her dance it.  I also enjoy Roberto Bolle, having seen him in La Dame aux Camelias a couple of seasons ago.  So, when I saw they were dancing together, I signed right up.  And I was not disappointed.

Julie was, as always (in my completely and totally blind, biased opinion), sublime.  Her gorgeously lyric arms and beautiful extension were on display throughout.  And her wonderful acting skills were also utilitzed to their utmost.  At first, she was a giddy bouncy girl, who gradually turned into a mature woman in love.  You could almost see the girlish softness fade as the womanly passion took over.  And, in the final scene, her despair was palpable.  That last pose was just heartbreaking.

Roberto Bolle is impossibly handsome.  There, I said it.  He was also a very passionate Romeo.  You totally believed his besottedness with Rosaline (though, I've always wondered why Rosaline doesn't get a more distinctive costume in this ballet - I always have a hard time picking her up out of the crowd, through no fault of the dancer), and then you felt the earth shake when he and Juliet saw each other for the first time.  Then, as he showed off to her, like a puppy dog, you were charmed.  But when they danced the balcony scene pas de deux, all youthful energy disappeared and mature passion took over.  Their dancing, both here and in the bedroom scene, was stunning.  Fast and passionate, yet lyrical and romantic.  There was hope and tragedy in every move.  I just throught they were wonderful.  And that last pas de deux, in the crypt, was amazing.  I used my binoculars for a lot of it and witnessed some wonderful acting as well as wonderful dancing.  It always amazes me how the choreography works in that last pas de deux, with Juliet while 'dead.'  It's just gorgeous. 

I enjoyed Jared Matthews as Mercutio very much, as did the rest of the audience - he probably got the loudest cheers of the night.  Blaine Hoven was a charming Benvolio, and  Gennadi Saveliev was a chilling Tybalt.  Sascha Radetsky was Paris and this role suits him.  As the unexciting suitor, he can play against that and be successful.  I've seen him play Tybalt before and he's less interesting to me there.  I think it's just my taste, though.  The three harlots danced very well, but some of the female corps were a little off at the top of the show, which was distracting.  If you're wearing hard-soled shoes and have to stamp your feet a lot, I'm thinking unison is your friend.  But it got cleaned up as the ballet went on.  I will say that the men had some sloppy sword work - not in their choreography, but in their free arm.  The arms were flopping around all over the place instead of being in a classic fencing position.  But that's a minor quibble.

The balcony wasn't full, but the audience was very supportive and enthusiastic.  Julie and Roberto came out a few times for curtain calls.  Of course, everyone is wearing white, so my pictures aren't that great.  :(   But I was glad for the post-performance enthusiasm.  Sometimes I feel like I'm overly happy with everything I see at ABT, so it's nice to have some positive reinforcement of my own.  You know what, though?  Who cares if I like everything?  That's a good thing, right??  I think it is.  It's better than hating everything.  Anyway, I can't believe I only have three more ballets left in the season - it goes by much too quickly.  Next up, a return visit to Firebird, but it's paired with The Dream this time, and I've never seen The Dream.  Excitement...

Friday, June 15, 2012

Review - As You Like It

I love As You Like It.  I’ve worked on so many productions of it, and seen many more.  Each production was so worthwhile.  I can remember aspects of each and every one.  Well, maybe not EVERY one.  I can barely remember what I had for lunch yesterday.  Um…wait, what did I have for lunch yesterday??

Anyway, I was very fortunate to win tickets last night through the Public Theater’s virtual ticket lottery for the Shakespeare in the Park production of As You Like It.  It’s Shakespeare in the Park’s 50th anniversary season, so they’re going all out with a very well-cast As You Like It, and later in the summer, Into the Woods.  I don’t imagine I’ll be winning any tickets for that, but I’ll be trying.  As for As You Like It, you should really try to see it.  It’s pretty grand.  With a few caveats, of course.  J

I think Daniel Sullivan has directed with a fine hand.  The story is told crisply and well, with clear diction and a company who knows what they’re saying (that’s more rare than you might imagine).  The show moves forward very well, with really good transitions from the court to the forest and back, though the middle sections of the second act are a bit of a slog.  They generally are, and the play seemed to stall a bit last night, too.  The set is terrific and Sullivan has ingeniously staged a lot of the action in the Forest of Arden actually IN the forest, or, rather, up in the trees!  Hats off to set designer John Lee Beatty for ingeniously putting platforms in the trees that are completely hidden.  Each time an actor appeared in a tree, I was freshly amazed.   All of the designers did a terrific job.  I’ll get to my favorite a little later.

I guess I’m not on the Lily Rabe bandwagon.  I know most people adore her, though, so possibly it's just me.  Her Rosalind, while certainly intelligently and thoughtfully acted, didn’t completely work for me.  She’s smart and sarcastic, and delivers a laugh line well, yet I didn’t see the romantic dreamer in her.  The romantic that would fall in love with Orlando at first sight.  Rosalind is many things, not only a smart girl.  I mean, if we don’t see that girly love, then the male disguise misses its complete usefulness.  Maybe her performance is still evolving, but she could seriously work on getting her voice out of her nose (this was also an issue for me when she was in Seminar – perhaps it’s just something she brings to the table, though I don’t remember it being quite so strident in Heartbreak House) and I’m hoping her posture will improve.  I just don’t get these girls and their bad posture.  If it had been a character choice for when she’s disguised as a boy, I would’ve been ok with it, but, no, this gal just slouches her way through life.  If it's a way to make character seem contemporary, uh, no.  And she stood upright enough for me to assume that she doesn't slouch naturally.  But, ok, having complained about her, I will say that she carried the role with aplomb, told the story well and tackled the role with verve. 

I thought David Furr as Orlando was fantastic.  I was telling my handsome date before the show that As You Like It sort of hinges on Orlando for me.  It’s such a tough role and when there’s a bad Orlando, I just don’t care about the rest of the show.  But this guy was terrific.  He spoke beautifully (he even had a couple of line readings that I had never heard done in just that way before, which illuminated some of the script in new ways – hoorah!), was charmingly lovestruck and also had much dignity and wit.  He was terrific and I look forward to seeing what he does next.

Stephen Spinella, who in my opinion is an American theater treasure, is a lovely Jaques, melancholy yet engaged in the world, cynical yet still a little bit romantic (though he tries to fight it).  I loved his take on things.  Oliver Platt, although he had a tiny bit of a problem in his last speech, was a grand Touchstone.  Much different than other Touchstones I’ve seen -  more cerebral, almost, but not, hello, he’s Touchstone.  I don’t know how to describe him, I just really liked him.  I liked Renee Elise Goldsberry as Celia and Omar Metwally as Oliver, thought Donna Lynn Champlin was fun as Audrey, enjoyed Will Rogers as Silvius, but thought the gal playing Phebe didn’t quite know what she was doing.  She spoke well, though, so maybe it will come.  I thought Robert Joy as Le Beau was oddly touching and Andre Braugher as the two dukes was quite fine.  Oh, and I really liked Jesse Lenat as Amiens.  His singing was great.

And my favorite designer?  Steve Martin!  He did the bluegrass-tinged score and it was fantastic.  I’ve read a rumor online that the score is going to be recorded – I hope that’s true.  I LOVE bluegrass and this was first-rate.  The ‘band’ was really good, and using the Shakespearean text in this music was a lot of fun.  Orlando singing one of his letters to Rosalind, while trying to accompany himself on the mandolin, was really cute.  I just liked it and hope Steve Martin decides to write a whole musical someday.  Seriously, is there anything Steve Martin can’t do?

It probably seems like I complained, but I really did have a great time at the show.  I just love the play, and I guess I quibble more about it because I love it so much.  You should definitely try to get out to the Delacorte to see it.  Plus, I had a handsome date and ran into some beautiful friends at the theater.  We had delicious snacks afterward at Monaco (see the picture of my delicious Israeli Salad?  I have some leftovers for lunch today!), so it was a great evening all around.  Just the kind of New York night that makes you happy to be in New York in the summer. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Post-Tony thoughts

I enjoyed watching the Tony Awards last Sunday on my new TV - HD is a wonderful thing.  I thought the telecast was a fairly good one; it moved with a nice pace, though I would quibble with some of the things they chose to broadcast as opposed to the things they chose to omit.  I didn't get a kick out of seeing some non-union performers on a cruise ship (especially on a night when Actors Equity got a Special Tony) when they couldn't broadcast the In Memoriam portion, and I remain annoyed that the technical awards are off-camera as well.  I love Hugh Jackman as much as the next person (and maybe more!), but putting his Special Tony on camera, when Manny Azenburg and Bernadette Peters were not, was just pandering.  I love Hugh Jackman, don't get me wrong, but if you're going to show one, show them all, not just the biggest movie star.  In my opinion, of course.

Neil Patrick Harris was again a terrific host, charming and genial, and he has just the right attitude of love for the theater and mocking of the award-show-form.  He always strikes a wonderful balance.  I thought opening with that song from Book of Mormon was cute, though I wish they had carried the 'stars opening their dressing room doors' conceit a little farther.  I also liked the 'if life were like the theater' number - seeing Patti LuPone as a next-door neighbor, pushing a lawn mower while wearing a gown, has been worth a giggle almost every day this week.  The mid-show number with the famous lines from other musicals was quite a lot of fun, as was the closing number (which I'm so glad CBS let run).  I vote for NPH to be the Host For All Time.  Unless Hugh Jackman wants to be the co-host.  I'd be ok with that.  :)

I didn't really think any of the numbers from the nominated shows came off all that well, though it appears they did sell some tickets.  When I saw Jesus Christ Superstar, the "Superstar" number played like gangbusters.  Out of context: not so much.  And "Buddy's Blues" was just an odd choice for a Follies number, though I guess I understand why it would be chosen.  But after hearing Bernadette's description of the show (which was a snoozer of an intro), that number really didn't fit.  The camera work during the Newsies number was terrible, so you couldn't see why that Tony-winning choreography was so fun; the number from Ghost made no sense to me and was poorly shot AND had poor sound, though the dead-guy-in-blue-spotlight was kinda cool; I know why they chose that piece from Evita, but to have Eva just stand around and throw money looked goofy; I guess the Porgy and Bess stuff came off well-enough; the song from Once was nice, but, out of context, seeing the lead gal just kinda wander around in circles was odd; and Matthew Broderick charmed his way through the Nice Work if You Can Get It piece, though why didn't his tux fit?  Oh, and Raul looked and sounded good during the Leap of Faith number, but I would've preferred the solo piece of his character's, if only to see the leather pants one.more.time.  :)   But none of the numbers knocked my socks off, like when Michael Jeter performed from Grand Hotel, or when the original cast of Evita did "A New Argentina."  I guess you can't have electricity like that all the time.  But when the original stars of Evita, presenting an award, were more fun and exciting than the number from the revival, something is a little off...

Winner-wise, I didn't really have a horse in any of the races.  My boyfriends didn't win anything, darn it, but I wasn't unhappy with the people who DID win.  OK, I would've preferred a different winner for best actress in a musical, but that's just a personal thing that nearly no one else in America shares and I'm learning to deal with it (but was I the only one uncomfortable with her "getting raped nightly" comment?  I can't be, right?).  I was thrilled Nina Arianda won, and appreciated that she acknowledged Christopher Plummer, and I love Christian Borle, so that win was a happy one.  I was also really glad that Clybourne Park won, and thought producer Jordan Roth gave a lovely speech.  I guess I need to see Once and Peter and the Starcatcher, since they won so many awards.  I'll have to get on that.

So, I basically had a good time watching the show, I always do, but, yet, I felt a bit dissatisfied.  I sort of feel like the Tony broadcast has lost some of its excitement for me.  To me, once it became a CBS-approved commercial for the League, as opposed to a celebration of the season's theatrical excellence, it diminished itself.  The broadcast is just never going to appeal to the masses - the people who might happen to tune in because someone from NCIS is presenting an award aren't going to increase viewership significantly, so why not keep it a classy but fun love letter to theater?  It's a happy coicidence that a fine theater actor happens to star on a CBS show, so yay for NPH, but...I don't know.  How can it be fixed?  I really don't know.  Maybe I'm just turning into an old curmudgeon who only thinks stuff was better in the "good old days."  Or maybe it's just that I didn't really LOVE any of the musicals this year that the performances didn't rock my world.  I guess there's always next year.  This is theater - hope always springs eternal.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

ABT - Firebird, Apollo, Thirteen Diversions

Last night was the next in my ABT subscription series - the mixed repertory evening of a new production of Firebird, Balanchine's Apollo, and Christopher Wheeldon's Thirteen Diversions.  I saw Thirteen Diversions last season and enjoyed it.  For some reason, I was a little less impressed with it this time.  I don't know why.  It was well danced, and the solo pianist played the Britten score beautifully.  Maybe I just wasn't in the best mood at the start of the evening - I wasn't feeling all that great and I was trying very hard not to cough throughout the entire performance.  That may have distracted me.  But the dancing was mainly lovely, especially Misty Copeland and Gray Davis, who weren't originally announced to dance last night.  When the little slip of paper fell out of the program, I was worried about later soloists, but whew.  The changes were to the couples in Thirteen Diversions, and I couldn't really tell any differences.  For some reason, I had memories of a different ending to that piece, but I guess my mind was just playing tricks on me.  Again.  It was a very nice beginning to the evening.

Next on the program was Balanchine's Apollo.  I've only seen it danced once before, a long time ago, at New York City Ballet, plus I've seen video snippets of Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins dancing it.  So I was going in pretty fresh to it.  I thought it was terrific.  David Hallberg was stunning as Apollo - his line is so beautiful.  I used my binoculars during his opening scene and his face was just as expressive as his body.  The extension he gets through his legs is sublime.  Veronika Part was a gorgeous Terpsichore and their pas de deux was just lovely.  Hee Seo was Polyhymnia and Stella Abrera was Calliope.  I'm thinking I'm just not in love with Hee Seo - her dancing is technically lovely, but she doesn't really fill each moment.  At least not in my opinion.  But Stella was grand.  David partnered them all well, though there were some shaky holds when all four were dancing together.  I'm sure that will get straightened out with future performances.  And their final ascent was gorgeous.  Thumbs up from me.  For some reason, I didn't get my camera out, so I only got photos from the final curtain call, darn it.

The piece I was most excited about was the new production of Firebird.  I've never seen a production of it before, but the Stravinsky score is one of the first classical scores I ever listened to.  It's been a long time since I listened to the whole thing, though.  I enjoyed Alexei Ratmansky's Nutcracker last season, with some caveats about the over-cutesiness of some of the choreography.  I guess I can say the same thing about this Firebird.

On the whole, I enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to seeing it again (I'm seeing another mixed repertory night that includes Firebird alongside two different pieces).  But I do have some quibbles with it.  I found the choreography for the maidens to be a little too scattered - it was hard to tell which gal was supposed to be the lead Maiden that Ivan falls in love with, though, once I figured it out, I thought Simone Messmer danced beautifully.  I didn't love Marcelo Gomes' costume - he kinda looked like he was wearing one of those disco glam costumes from the end of Mamma Mia.  Only in white.  (when I see characters in white, I groan.  I can't photograph white costumes.  too much glare.)   The shiny flooring looked pretty, but I think it caused the dancers some issues - Marcelo in particular made a lot of squeaking noises when he pirouetted.  Plus, putting that floor in made the intermission extra-long.  But as always, I loved Marcelo.  How can you not?  He's charming, virile and danced with a little extra whimsy. 

I very much enjoyed Natalia Osipova as the Firebird.  I thought she captured the wildness of the character well.  If some of her choreography didn't seem vital enough, maybe that's me.  But when the music is so propulsive, I like the choreography to match.  And I did get tired of the sliding.  But you immediately knew she was the focal point whenever she was on that stage.  She OWNS it and she danced well with Marcelo - their first pas de deux was terrific.  Even with the squeaky boots.

I thought David Hallberg was terrific as the evil Kaschei.  (OK, I know, I always think he's terrific.  Sue me.)  He looked great in his costume, green hair and all, and he seemed to have so much fun with the campy evilness of his character.  When the four leads were dancing all out right before the ending moments, the ballet finally started to come alive for me.  And once the trees released all the cursed souls, and everyone came on stage, in the white (oy) costumes, purified by the death of the evil one, it was gorgeous.  Gorgeous.  I just wish some of that symbiotic joy had found its way into the earlier part of the evening.  When I see the ballet again, I'll know if we were just seeing opening night jitters last night.  The reception at the curtain call was quite rapturous, and Ratmansky came out to take a bow, along with the designers. 

All in all, I had a grand time.  I saw some gorgeous dancing and heard some wonderful music.  I should probably apologize to my seat neighbors for succumbing to coughing towards the end of the evening, but I just couldn't hold it in anymore.  And four cough drops in a two-hour period is too many, especially without dinner. My next ballet is Romeo and Juliet with my Julie.  I'm starting to tear up just thinking about it.  Please, no little slip of paper falling out...

Monday, June 11, 2012

New York through the eyes of a nephew

Last week, my mom, sister and nephew came to visit.  It's always an adventure having four people live in my one-bedroom apartment for any amount of time, but we're good at togetherness.  :)   This year, my sister decided to drive to New York, instead of fly, because of the cost.  I'm thinking they probably won't do that again anytime soon.  Being in the car for six or seven hours isn't fun for anybody, but especially not for active twelve-year-old boys.  He was definitely ready for a walk (or run) once they got into Queens.

Thankfully, parking wasn't a huge problem - the car could stay in front of my apartment until Friday (they arrived on Tuesday), and we had decided to go to Jones Beach on Friday, so it all worked out well.  My sister hurt her foot before coming to visit, so I was worried about her making it worse with all the walking you have to do around here.  She was a trouper, though.  The picture on the left is pretty much how we walked all week - nephew in front, me in middle, telling him not to get too far ahead, with wounded sister and slowpoke mom bringing up the rear.  :)

As we were walking to get some dinner, my nephew informed me that he liked coming to New York because it was different than Akron.  In some ways, they're the same, with some good neighborhoods and some not-so-good neighborhoods.  But, New York has more 'chaos.'  I thought that was an interesting way for him to describe New York: chaos.  I told him that a little chaos is good for us, to shake us up a bit and make things not so boring.  He agreed.  And so ends the philosophical portion of this blog post.  Hee.  But he's a pip, yes??
Because I'm me, I have to plan the schedule to the tiniest minute and I try to plan for every contingency.  Down time is the enemy of an active twelve-year-old boy.  Well, at least for this one.  I make copies of menus from restaurants I think my nephew would like (he's a notoriously picky eater) and map out routes so we always seem to be moving forward.  I think the planning worked out pretty well for this trip.  And Danny even ate more than one meal every day, so that was a bonus. 

Wednesday, we DID deviate from the plan a bit.  The space shuttle, which was supposed to be transported to the Intrepid Museum the day before, was actually going to arrive on Wednesday afternoon.  So, after trying a Doughnut Plant doughnut, and shopping at Toys R Us in Times Square, we took the crosstown bus to the 42nd Street Pier, walked over to the Intrepid, and saw the shuttle floating down (up?) the Hudson.  It was very cool.  The pier was crowded, but not as crowded as I thought it would be.  It was a warm, sunny day and everyone was excited to see the space shuttle, so it was a nice moment.  Danny liked that it was something not many people get to see.  And he definitely wants to go to the Intrepid Museum another time, preferably with my dad (we need to get my dad here again soon).  The rest of the day was spent shopping at the Lego Store and FAO Schwartz.  Since we had left the apartment so early in the morning, the rest of my group was done sightseeing by 4pm, which seemed early to me, but c'est la vie.  We spent the rest of the evening playing the Nickelodeon DVD game I bought a few years ago (and have certainly gotten my money's worth out of), then playing at the small playground near my apartment.  Day one: fun.

Thursday: My sister pre-reserved tickets for the 9/11 Memorial a couple of months ago, for an 11am reservation.  Boy, am I glad she got the tickets in advance, AND that we went so early.  When we got there, there was no one in line and we sailed right through all the security you have to go through.  As we left, though, the lines were enormous and it was going to take those people a long time to get through the lines.  So, word to the wise, if you're going, go early.

The Memorial is a beautifully quiet and contemplative place, with lots of trees, stone, water and sun.  I'll admit that I'm one of the people who thought there shouldn't be a new building built to replace the Twin Towers, just a memorial of some sort.  I'll need convincing that the Freedom Tower is the right idea.  In this Memorial, I like the pools that they've put in the footprints of the towers.  They're bigger, yet smaller, than I thought they'd be.  The sound of the water is relaxing and chilling at the same time.  And seeing all the names around the pools and the perimeter is heartbreaking.  There's an iPhone app that you can download about the Memorial that mainly tells you where you can find a name, which is very handy, though I do wish there was more content about the site itself.  Maybe that will come later, since the area still seems to be a work-in-progress.  My nephew was very interested in hearing my 9/11 experience and, in his twelve-year-old logic, couldn't understand how such a thing could happen.  I think it does him good to hear that bad things happen sometimes and you can't plan for them.  You just have to be willing to learn from what went wrong.  He still sees everything in black and white, so I'm intent on teaching him that sometimes life can be a little bit grey...

After we finished at the 9/11 Memorial, I had thought we might get some pizza at Lombardi's, but Danny preferred to give Shake Shack a try.  OK, fine with me, as long as he eats something.  So we took the subway back uptown and had lunch at Shake Shack!  He liked it!  Hooray!  Then we took another bus down to the High Line.  My mom was especially keen to see the new portions that have opened since the last time she was here.  Danny, on the other hand, was disappointed it wasn't a real 'park' and was bored.  So Mom and I wandered around, while he and his mommy sat and took a break.  After a bit, we decided it was time to head back to my apartment (again, kinda early, but oh well!).  On the way to the subway, we passed a park that Danny found more interesting, so we made a pit stop and he played a little handball.  He had seen some kids playing at the little playground near my apartment, so he wanted to give it a try.  He actually has pretty good hand/eye coordination (probably from all those stupid video games), so he had fun playing for a bit.  Plus, it wore him down for the subway ride back to Queens.  :)  Day two: fun.

Friday, we drove out to Jones Beach.  Of course, I had printed out some directions, but navigated us wrong in the very first few minutes.  Sigh.  But it wasn't all my fault - there was a semi in the middle of the road and it looked like you couldn't use the access road!  Well, at least that's what I'm telling myself.  It wasn't such a bad mistake - we probably only lost about fifteen minutes.  I've definitely gotten more lost than that in the past.  It's actually a pretty easy trip to Jones Beach from Astoria.  It probably took us around an hour to get there. 
Boy, is Jones Beach really pretty!  Much prettier than Coney Island!  We had a grand time (though the end of the day got fairly dicey when we couldn't find the miniature golf place and then no one was there once we found it).  It was a beautifully sunny day, not a cloud in the sky, and we all got sunburned.  This would put a damper on our Saturday, but while we were at the beach, we loved it.  There weren't that many people there, which was nice.  And the water was cold, with just enough waves to make things interesting.  Danny dug a hole so deep, he could fit his entire body into it!  Lots of people walking along the beach had to talk to him about it, so he liked getting attention from other people than just his mom/aunt/nana who think he's the bee's knees.  Danny definitely wants to go back, especially when my dad comes, and this time, we'll know where to park for the miniature golfing.  I guess you can't know everything the first time around.  Day three: super fun (until the sunburns).

Saturday: I had planned we would meet some of my friends at the Boat Basin for lunch, then wander through Riverside Park, but I woke up with a sore throat and some sort of whooping cough, plus Danny and my sister were in a bit of sunburn pain, so we ended up just staying in.  It wasn't so bad, though.  I could spend more quiet time with Danny, though he said he was disappointed to not see my friends.  But, we were all pretty tired from all the stuff we'd done the previous days.  We watched cartoons and played the Nickelodeon game.  I believe we also indulged in naps.  My mom doesn't enjoy a day of doing nothing, so she kept going out and about, but it doesn't bother me, my nephew or my sister.  Doing nothing is a luxury that should be indulged in any chance you get.  Recharge.  Danny told me he was sorry to leave me and he had fun, but he was ready to be home.  I told him that was fine.  After all, according to Little House on the Prairie, home is the nicest word there is.  Besides, I'll be heading to his place for the Fourth of July weekend, so it made the parting a little less painful.  I'll admit to some watery eyes, though, when we all said goodbye.  He's growing up so fast, but at least he still lets me call him my angel boy.  Until July...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

ABT - Onegin plus a lovely curtain raiser

Last night, I saw the next ballet in my ABT subscription, John Cranko's Onegin, with music by Tchaikovsky.  I've never seen the ballet Onegin before, though I have seen the Ralph Fiennes movie.  I think it helps to be a little familiar with the story beforehand, and ABT provides a nice synopsis in the playbill.

I had hoped to see Julie Kent dance Onegin, since she permiered this particular version and she's my favorite, but last night was my only free night this week.  I lucked out, though, because I got to see two gorgeous performances by Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes.

I saw Diana and Marcelo dance Giselle last year and adored them.  They are a wonderful partnership - very secure with each other and in tune with each other's emotions.  They were just as secure and in tune with each other last night.  It was a beautifully passionate performance from both.

Even though Marcelo generally projects warmth and dignity on stage, he still acted the role of the chilly and remote Onegin very well.  His hands were particularly expressive showing his disdain for everything around him.  And, as always, his dancing was superlative.  The extension he gets is so gorgeous; and his partnering is just expert.  There were a lot of tricky lifts and holds in the pas de deux, but you never felt nervous with him.  I've seen other dancers where you're not quite sure if the next move will happen, but never with Marcelo.

When we first see Diana's Tatiana, she's a young, idealistic girl.  She dances with abandon and joy and passion - she's almost reckless in her dancing, but not.  It's the characterization.  The pictures she makes with her body are just so beautiful.  There was one position, where she's reaching with her arms, yet moving away en pointe - so evocative and moving.  When we see her later, after life, death and Onegin's rejection have taken their toll, she is still beautiful, but more reserved and dignified.  When she sees Onegin again, you can see the shock go through her body, and the remembrances of how she felt in her youth.  It's really amazing.  And their final pas de deux was heart-stopping.  So gorgeous.

One of my new favorites, Natalia Osipova, danced the role of Olga, the sister, and she was wonderful.  Such a buoyancy in her dancing.  She was flirtatious and saucy, a lovely contrast to Tatiana, yet remorseful when she saw what her flirtations have wrought.  And she was beautifully matched with Jared Matthews as her fiance.  At first, he seemed a little boring to me, but then I realized he was just right.  His character is the safe one, the steady one.  But in his solo before the duel, he was fantastic and dynamic.  The music there was also amazing - a gorgeous violin solo.  Exquisite.  I also enjoyed Gennadi Saveliev as Prince Gremin - he made some lovely choices in the ballroom pas de deux with Diana.

I didn't really know this score before.  Like most Tchaikovsky ballet music, this is evocative and dramatic, though I did find some of the tempi to be repetitive.  I could perhaps lay that at the conductor's feet.  But my mind wandered a couple of times due to a sameness of the music.  All was forgiven, though, by the end.  I was wrung out by the emotion Marcelo and Diana were sharing - you felt their anguish and regret.  I love me some anguish and regret expressed via dancing... ;)

They were exhausted during the curtain call and clung to each other very movingly.  I stupidly forgot my camera and had to use the cell phone for curtain call photos.  So, they're not very good.  Darn it.   But the applause was rapturous and very sustained.  Again, Diana gives a good curtain call - just as good as her dancing during the ballet.  I like that in an artist.  :) 

Apparently, they haven't done Onegin for eight or nine years - I hope they don't wait that long to bring it back.  I'd love to see it again and soon.  I'm sorry I can't go back to see my Julie do it.  Oh well.  Next week, I'm SO excited and I'm trying not to get carried away with excitement at seeing Firebird and Apollo.  SO excited...

As for the lovely curtain raiser, I was very fortunate to be able to attend the third Lilly Awards at Playwrights Horizons last night before I went to the Met.  A few years ago, some of the movers and shakers in theater decided to honor women for their theatrical contributions, since it didn't seem like anyone else was interested in honoring women.  So, the Lilly Awards were born.  Many thanks to Theresa Rebeck, Marsha Norman and Julia Jordan for keeping this fine tradition going.  It was a fun evening and a packed-to-the-gills house, filled with laughter, appreciation and warmth.  Each of the presenters spoke movingly about the recipients - Tonya Pinkins was especially inspiring.  And gorgeous.  I was so moved by all of the acceptance speeches and congratulate all of this year's recipients: Diane Paulus, Nina Arianda, Katori Hall, Leslye Headland, Sarah Benson, Heidi Ettinger, Cristin Milioti, the magical Tina Howe and Estelle Parsons.  And a shout-out to this year's Miss Lilly, the incomparable David Ives, who was a good sport to wear his sash and tiara proudly on stage all evening.  :)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Weekend with John Kander

Well, not exactly.  But I did have a weekend filled with John Kander's music!  :) 

Saturday night, I was very fortunate to score a ticket to the developmental lab production of John Kander's new musical, The Landing.  His lyricist and bookwriter on this project is a young playwright, Greg Pierce.  Since the show is in development, and since critics weren't even allowed to attend, I won't offer a real review (not that I'm a critic - you know what I mean), but I will say that I think the piece is very worthy of more development.  As of now, it's three small unrelated pieces, comprising one musical evening.  I found two of the pieces gentle, haunting and sad, with lovely music and thought-provoking dialogue.  I hope to see them in full form sometime soon.  If the third piece didn't reveal itself to me, oh well.  Thanks to the Vineyard for giving John Kander a place to play.  And thanks to John Kander for continuing to stretch himself and make challenging musical theater.

Sunday night, the Dramatists Guild Fund had their 50th Anniversary Celebration honoring John Kander.  It was a star-studded night at the Mandarin Oriental on Columbus Circle. 

I think I first heard John Kander music when I was in college.  I was woefully ignorant of American musical theater and only started to catch up with the classics after I'd been in school for a few years.  Anyway, my undergrad program was performing Chicago and it was a fantastic production.  I believe I went to see it two or three times, because I thought the show was so great - it was so much more tuneful, sophisticated and fun than any other musical I had ever seen.  In the many years since then, I've seen a lot more of his work and loved it all.  Yes, I've loved some more than others, but that's the nature of the beast.  Since Chicago was the first I saw, it holds a special place in my heart, but I tell you, I was so thrilled by The Scottsboro Boys last year, it ranks right up there.

The Mandarin Oriental is a lovely place for a celebration like this.  The view is spectacular from the ballroom, the table set-up was comfortable and intimate, the food was tasty and the champagne was flowing.  :)  The program of performances to honor John was a serious who's who of American theater.  Each and every performance was a thrill and I'm so grateful I got to experience it from right there:  first, Joel Grey did a little bit of "Wilkommen" and I got a little bit verklempt; Karen Mason did a gorgeous "Colored Lights" from The Rink; Rita Gardner broke my heart with her "You Could Never Shame Me" from Kiss of the Spider Woman; musical director Paul Bogaev was great (though sadly at the mercy of his wayward mic) doing "The First Time" from Zorba; Howard McGillin, one of my super-uber-faves, did an amazingly stellar "I Miss the Music" from Curtains; Debra Monk killed it with "Everybody's Girl" from Steel Pier (I remember when I saw the show - I thought that Kristin Chenoweth was going to be a star and Debra Monk would win a Tony for that number. I was close, but no Tony win, darn it...); Joshua Henry delivered a soulful and moving "Home" from The Scottsboro Boys (I treasure my signed CD from that show, and I treasure listening to John himself sing that song. Gorgeous); Bebe Neuwirth and Karen Ziemba were electric in "Nowadays" from Chicago; Stockard Channing was nervous, but performed a lovely "A Quiet Thing" from Flora the Red Menace; the incomparable Chita Rivera was, well, incomparable doing "There You Are" and "Kiss of the Spider Woman," and, hello, Liza Minnelli was on it, doing a few of her signature numbers written by John.  The evening concluded with, of course, "New York, New York" and everyone joining John on the stage. 

Other speakers included Gretchen Cryer, Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman, Christie Brinkley, Stephen Schwartz and Terrence McNally.  What was most lovely was hearing all of them speak about the kindness and generosity of John Kander.  As they all pointed out, in a profession that can sometimes be less than kind, how wonderful to work with a man who wants nothing more than to collaborate and share his talent.  To know that everyone, working together, will bring out the best in each other.  It was a good lesson for the room.  I've saved a couple of very sweet e-mails that I've received from John over the years, so I can attest to his being a great guy, too.  But it's always nice to hear it resoundingly across the board.

Last night was truly an amazing evening, filled with love, respect and great music.  And a tasty spring pea risotto with mint.  And champagne.  I'm so lucky to have been there.  May John Kander write for another 50 years!  :)